CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nine months ago, soon after Virginia Coach Mike London finished what he now labels “the toughest professional decision” of his life, the first phone call he made was to the 19-year-old son of one of the assistant coaches he had just fired.
On the other end of the line was defensive end Mike Moore, still trying to come to terms with the “big surprise” his father, Cavaliers great Shawn Moore, had just told him about. Mike Moore didn’t know what to do at first. He liked London, and liked playing at Virginia.
“There was an assumption, a huge assumption from teammates and friends of his, that he was going to leave because of my situation,” Shawn Moore, a former quarterback, said this week. He served as Virginia’s wide receivers coach in 2010 and 2011 and coached the team’s tight ends last year before he was let go.
“And the fact is — and I point-blank asked him — ‘What’s your thought process?’ He’s like: ‘No. I’m very happy. This is where I chose to come to school. You were a bonus just in terms of being there.’ But he didn’t come there because of me. He went there because he wanted to get a degree from U-Va. and wanted to play for the University of Virginia. That hasn’t changed. He still wants to accomplish those things.”
Mike Moore enters the 2013 season as a key piece along Virginia’s defensive line, a player quick enough to play end and big enough to move inside to tackle. The sophomore likely won’t start when the Cavaliers open the season against Brigham Young on Aug. 31, but he should see plenty of action.
But that he’s still on campus when his father is now back in the Washington area waiting on his next job is telling. Mike Moore said earlier this month that London’s call was all about making sure “the relationship wasn’t hurt.” What London didn’t know then, however, is that Shawn Moore had already made his son feel comfortable about his dismissal, so “not once” did Mike Moore ever think about transferring to another school.
“It’s always awkward any time you make a staff change, particularly this one was obviously near and dear to him,” London said. “But as we explained and as we talked, the changes were made for reasons to move the team forward. He understands that. His dad is a great man and understands that Mike can still become an educated man and have a great career himself.”
There is still some residual tension from the firing, one of four made by London after Virginia’s 4-8 season. “Everyone was surprised, as was I,” Shawn Moore said. “They wanted to make some changes, so they made the necessary changes they felt they needed to make. Obviously, there were differences of opinion.”
But he won’t allow any lingering animosity to affect his son. Mike Moore was one of nine true freshmen to play for Virginia last year, but his role was limited to pass-rushing situations. This season, the Cavaliers expect the 275-pound former All-Met from DeMatha to be a versatile member of their defense, which will feature plenty of blitzing under new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
For Moore, though, success is also about measuring up to his father. Shawn Moore helped guide the Cavaliers to their first ACC title and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1990. He finished his career with 41 school, ACC and NCAA individual records, and still holds school records for total offense and touchdowns.
“I always think about his legacy and people always remind me about him and I know everything about it,” Mike Moore said. “If I can just get close, I’ll be pretty happy with where I left off here.”
Shawn Moore, meanwhile, hasn’t soured on college coaching. He hopes to find a new job after this season. In the meantime, he’ll be in Charlottesville for every home game.
“I told him, ‘Anything less than 10 sacks, I’m gonna be disappointed this year,’ ” Shawn Moore said. “I want to see him crush all the quarterbacks now.”